In terms of when a fermenting beverage stops being an ale and becomes a barleywine, none are anxious to weigh in. Trappist ales can run up to 14% abv or more, while barleywines are typically 8-11%, so strength is not the only factor.
I strongly doubt I could tell one from the other in a blind taste test, but I can tell you with assurance that barleywines feel more Christmassy, although I am at a loss to explain why that might be. Certainly strong beers like these have a grand reputation as a winter warmer which is greatly appreciated on a night when the thermometer is expected to drop to -31 degrees Celsius!
This may be the first barleywine I've encountered in the Craft Beer Advent Calendar, and seeing that Gno More Gnomes comes from famed gypsy brewer Evil Twin made me excited to try it. The colever name and brilliant label only serve to add to the experience.
Poured into a stemmed glass, it presents as a deep coppery amber, with hints of ruby glistening through, crowned with a picturesque crown of beige foam, about a finger's worth. Scents of big alcohol, followed by fruit esters (fig as expected, but also traces of apples and maybe raisins), a bit of yeast of subtle spices.
The taste is the same: powerful, sweet but also tart, and finished with the gamey sweetness of figs. It grows in complexity as it warms, and traces of cinnamon and vanilla, perhaps imagined, are nonetheless detectable.
Gno More Gnomes is an appealing, whimsical, and most importantly, tasty way to spend a cold evening inside. This beer could accompany grilled fish or even a roast turkey, but was almost a meal unto itself when paired with simple mixed nuts.